He was behind Délivrez-nous du mal. He was behind IXE-13. He was behind Bonheur d’occasion. He was also behind Le Matou, The Decline of the American Empire, Les portes tournantes, Jesus of Montreal and C’t’à ton tour Laura Cadieux. Each and every one of those times, he was behind it.

Francois DompierreHe is François Dompierre. He didn’t direct these classics of Québec cinema, but this emeritus composer created the music for all of these films and many, many more.

Going through the list of shorts and feature films in which François Dompierre was involved is pretty much like reading the history of film in Québec, from the ‘60s to the 21st Century. Not unlike a modern-era Mozart, the composer has left a deep musical imprint on a vast and universal body or work.

Which is somewhat surprising, since he never envisioned such a career for himself when he was a student at the Conservatory.

“At the Conservatory, they teach you learned music, what is usually called classical music,” says Dompierre. “Film music was not a career plan. At 20, I dreamt of writing concert music, which is now something I’ve been doing for quite a while.

Yet François Dompierre’s name is widely associated with ‘60s singers, thanks to his collaborations with Félix Leclerc, Pauline Julien, Louise Forestier, Pierre Calvé, and Claude Gauthier, to name but a few.

“Yes, I was an arranger for many artists,” says Dompierre, “and I worked with the National Film Board, most notably with [Jacques] Godbout. Film music became a business for me, but rather unexpectedly.”

Learning by Doing

Godbout (IXE-13), Jean-Claude Lord (Délivre-nous du mal) and Marcel Carrière (O.K…. Laliberté) are among the first directors with whom Dompierre worked in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, an era that was quite devoid of any manual on how to make film music.

“I learned everything I know by doing it,” says Dompierre. “I was lucky to be a part of that era. We could try stuff. We were learning as we went, just as those directors were. We were all building something. It was an era where anything went. We weren’t really aware of it, but in hindsight, absolutely.”

Francois DompierreAsk any songwriter and they’ll tell you they either write music for a text, or write a text for a piece of music. There’s no other way. The same goes for film music, but there’s still a specific modus operandi.

“I’ve written music for words and words for music,” says Dompierre. “In the ‘90s, writing music had become the very last stage in the creative process. We were sent images and were asked to base our work on those. Yet, for a comedy such as IXE-13, the music was written before the filming even began. But 85 percent of the time, the music comes at the end of the production, just before the mixing.”

Some Cases in Point

Making a movie is a huge team endeavour, but the composer is generally alone in his corner until he delivers his work to the director. It would make sense, then, that over a period of four decades, Dompierre’s vision was not always perfectly in sync with that of his directors.

“I’ve seen it all; directors always have something to add,” he says. “And that’s when you, as a composer, need to start acting like a psychiatrist. You ask them, “why do you want this?” And they say, “Because my girlfriend likes it” or “Because the images are begging for it.” OK, and why are the images begging for it? Music creation is quite a subliminal creative process. But it’s true that filmed images do call for a certain type of music.”

There are several types of directors,” says Dompierre. “There are those who see the music as a foil for the images. There are those who know exactly what they want. Denys Arcand is an example of that. Denys loves classical music. For The Decline of the American Empire, we based the music on Handel’s Fifth Concerto, and I created variations on that theme.

Although he recently did the music for Léa Pool’s La Passion d’Augustine, it was the first time he’s scored a movie in 15 years, having stepped away from it due to the distinct vision of a film’s stakeholders, and the impact of technology.

“Sometimes producers want music for their film but the director doesn’t,” says Dompierre. “Nowadays, because of technology, it’s possible to intervene on the music. You can, for example, do away with a string part. You know, when you spend hours on a single bar of music and then the editor cuts it out… But you can’t let that affect you. It’s life.

“We worked more like artisans in the ‘60s and ‘70s. We’d give each other advice. We talked with each other. It was teamwork. I worked closely with Francis Mankiewicz on Les portes tournantes. I wrote music and once Francis gave his OK, he gave me carte blanche.”

François Dompierre comments the homage he received at last month’s Gala du cinéma québécois with joyous straightforwardness.

“It was very nice, as it coincided with my 50th professional anniversary.”